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Cherry's Parenting Dilemmas: Where I went for advice

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Cherry Healey Cherry Healey | 13:39 UK time, Monday, 8 August 2011

I have a confession. Before I had a kid, I thought parenting was...
a) a doddle
b) boring
c) total instinctual

What I have experienced is that...
a) it can be pretty complicated
b) it is far from boring
c) I need help

Cherry Healey covered in stuffed toys

I used to walk past playgrounds on my way to the pub/club/shops and think to myself "wow those parents look bored". I realise now that they aren't bored because being with your child is both surprisingly fun and challenging (okay, so sometimes playing peek-a-boo for the hundredth time is a touch boring).

One of the things I'm often told is "oh, don't fret about it, trust your instincts". Well, I have found that my instincts can sometimes be pretty unhelpful.

For example, my daughter does not like sitting in her high-chair... oh no she does not. My instincts told me that it wasn't a big deal and it was more important that mealtimes were relaxed. In reality, this has meant I have spent the past year chasing her around with a spoon or leaving bowls of food on the floor in the hope she will eat something. Eating in restaurants or having a simple cuppa in a cafe is a no-go.

I have since tried and tested a few new tactics, spoken to dozens of mums, been on a dozen websites, read a few books and come up with my a solution: no chair, no food. I won't bore you with the details of why or how this works, but, for some reason, it just does. But there is no way on earth my instincts would have given me this information at the start.

Cherry Healey reading a parenting book

What I have learnt from experiences like this, and from making Cherry's Parenting Dilemmas, is that being a good parent doesn't just happen overnight. Like most things, it is a skill that you learn and that you can become better at. But I have found that there is one tool that is, without a doubt, the best help in this quest to become a better parent: the internet.

Whilst millions of excellent people have been brought up by parents who could have never even imagined the internet, I honestly don't know what I'd do without it. It has calmed me in moments of panic, it has comforted me in moments of isolation, it has made me wee my pants in moments of shared ridiculousness. It is parental gold dust.

I'm sure for some people the vast sea of information can actually just add confusion to the parenting malarky. But, for me, it has been an invaluable tool. Some of my favourite parenting online tools are mumsnet (praise be), BabyCentre and Mums Like You. Some social networking sites have also been very informative. Type in any question, no matter how absurd or random, and you will find a huge community of parents discussing the same thing. And often, they have collectively come up with some pretty brilliant solutions.

It is a substitute for a local community sharing stories and offering advice - except multiply that by a thousand and extend it's availability to 24 hours a day. Everyone can get involved and offer their words of wisdom. Maybe one day, after many trials and errors, no chair, no food will help a parent who is tired of chasing their children around the kitchen with spoons of bolognese.

Cherry Healey presents Cherry's Parenting Dilemmas on Monday at 9pm.

Next week, Cherry will be tackling what money means to women in Britain today here on the blog and you can watch Cherry's Cash Dilemmas on Monday 15th August at 9pm.

Join in the conversation and get tweeting, the hashtag is #bbc3cherry.

- NHS Guide to parenting in the early years
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT)
- Family Lives
- Bringing Up Britain
- BBC Parenting
- Is Breast Best? Cherry Healey Investigates
- Visit Cherry Healey's blog


  • Comment number 1.

    “I just want what’s best for my kids!” Nearly 40 years ago when I began my career as teacher I also began researching into what this might be and how I could help parents and adults with this task. I have spent the last 10 years as a Learning Consultant teaching, coaching, presenting, leading workshops etc. to help people (parents, teachers, foster carers, mentors, social , health, youth workers etc. to help with this objective and following the positive response to my book (A Wonderful Life?), I received some Government funding (in the UK) to help to me set up a website with it.
    You will see from the homepage that central to this approach is -
    "Successful people have learnt the 8 skills needed to identify and overcome the difficulties they meet to achieve success and happiness"
    – this is the outcome from extensive research throughout the world over the last 60 years, in areas as widespread as sport, music, books, film, science and business.
    1. Effective Learning Skills - We need to learn to survive but unless we develop our ability to learn throughout our life the continually changing situations and difficulties in the 21st century will destroy/defeat us.
    2. Communication skills – concentration, verbal skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing), non-verbal skills (visual gestures, body language, touch)
    3. Cognitive (thinking) skills - analytical and conceptual thinking
    4. Self-awareness
    5. Managing Feelings
    6. Motivation
    7. Empathy
    8. Social skills
    If we really want what’s best for our children – developing these 8 skills should become our main priority and helping with this as much as possible.
    I think you will find the website and book invaluable in your quest, and please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  • Comment number 2.

    I've watched tonights prograame on bbc3 (repeat i think). the vast majority is common sense and interpretation. the food that Cherry was initally trying to feed to Coco, I am not surprised she refused tbh. It looked revolting and, IMHO, had TOO many flavours in one dish. I have fed both of my children on home cooked food, and neither (now 6 and 11) are fussy with food, to the point where they'll eat almost anything, or at least try.

    Similarly, the spag bol battle went on too long, and Coco "won" it cos she still tried the food on her terms. 11 hrs is ridculous. TRY food, if they dont like it, withdraw it and try something else a little while later. A few days later try again the problem food, maybe tweaking a bit, e.g. in the case of spag bol, with just mince n a basic tomato sauce. if thats accepted, add another flavour next time, eg a hint of onion, and so on. if you attempt to force a child to eat for any length of time, you'll CREATE issues, and a battleground, which becomes less about food and more about a battle of wills, which is healthy for neither side.

    If food is a battle, as it appears, dont give up on the home made stuff, but go back to basics, ONE flavour at a time, gradually building up. Great to see someone not relying on supermarket mush food, but to begin, avoid strong flavours like onions, (as it looked like there was in the 1st dish, apologies if wrong) and kidney beans. kids tastebuds are different and develop over time, stick with the basic flavours to begin, and slowly build up. lots of fresh veg, finger foods like carrots, apples also. Get a basic array of accepted foods and build on that base.

    For goodness' sake DONT force food, I still gag at some that I was made to eat, even up to the age of 12 or so (fat on meat eg, pate etc). I have tried of my own volition some foods , some I liked, some not, but its taken me 20 yrs to try em. I havent let my tastes influence my kids, and they will happily try anything, and make their own minds up. Both like different stuff, but both adore sprouts, cabbage etc, cos they have never known different tbh.

    Youngest likes liver even! (I hate it lol). Both have happily eaten squid, crocodile and all manner of exotic dishes, just cos they will try it and make their own minds up.

    the key, I think, is to start basic, build up, dont make food a battle ground, and experiment in what you offer, not mixing too many flavours at once. It's a learni

  • Comment number 3.

    ok, sorry if a double post, apparently my post is awaiting moderation. Can't think why when the one above is blatent advertising.......

  • Comment number 4.

    I have only just watched this programme. I find it very difficult to see parents smacking their children. I dont believe that smacking works. They claim that they have to smack their children on a regular basis which to me shows that it doesn't stop the child from misbehaving. Although I also dont believe in putting your children outside in the dark and cold in their pj's. I found it interesting that they were telling their child off for smacking and then smacked him to enforce this?! Perhaps they dont realise that they are also teaching him to smack people when they arent doing as you want them too, the poor child must be very confused.

    I am a parent too and I could never imagine smacking my child, I would feel like a monster and I would not want my child to look at me with fear in their eyes. There are other ways of managing behaviour which do not involve physically hurting your own children.

    Sorry, smacking is just a pet hate of mine.

  • Comment number 5.

    Miss Netney (comment 4), as I'm sure you will have noticed by now, Cherry's programmes often present examples closer to the extremes. They were smacking two or three times a week. I think Cherry had it right that that is too frequent - they will be conditioned to accept that as "normal".

    I disagree with you I'm afraid about stopping smacking entirely though. Smacking should be reserved for the worst behaviour, usually when some particular line has been crossed, such as running out into roads, or repeated bad behaviour when other attempts to deal with it and remonstrate have failed. Children don't respond as well to rational arguments as adults, since it's in their nature to push boundaries. In our house we've abided by that principle, and the result is my 8 year old son I'm very proud of, who does respect purely verbal discipline now, and who hasn't crossed any boundaries like that in probably a couple of years now and so there's been no need to smack. In all, I think we've probably smacked him less than a dozen times in his whole life. It's important that the possibility is there, and that they know that it is, but I'm more than happy not to use it.

    I do find it a shame when I see some parents in public clearly overdoing the smacking, probably more than 2 or 3 times a week. I just hope you realise that not everyone treats smacking lightly or thoughtlessly, and we shouldn't be tarred with the same brush.

  • Comment number 6.

    I just want to post that I think forestzoe is spot on in comment 2. We had the same approach, and our son will give anything a try, and likes lots of things, including virtually all vegetables (I do sometimes hate the stereotype promulgated in the media that it's normal or reasonable for children to hate vegetables - it's not only far from universally true, but extremely unhelpful as it will make any children think they shouldn't be liking them; I wonder how many children have gone off vegetables as a result of that stereotype).

    Some things he doesn't like, but that's just normal personal preferences. There's even some seafood he'll have that neither myself nor my wife eat. I do agree that Cherry is doing a great job with the home cooked food, but starting simple is definitely best.

    Another tip though: make lots of the simple stuff and put it into ice cube trays, then in a sealed bag, then freeze. Then when you want to have, say, mushed butternut squash, just pop out a "cube" into a bowl and defrost and heat in a microwave. It's an easy way to have a variety of child friendly simple foods conveniently available. Once it's time to get more adventurous, just start mixing up the cubes in a bowl. This also works for pureed fruit.

  • Comment number 7.

    hi , ive just watched the programme and would like to offer some words of support to the mothers out their that are struggling with teens out their that get drunk , do drugs. at the age of 13-15 i did this. peer pressure can be a big issue with both male and female teens. i put my parents through hell and back , started smoking. smoked cannabis. got drunk every weekend , and whenever i could. fortunately , i realised what i was doing to my parents. i got my act together and now i voulenteer. go to college. im 17 now . and all i can say is because my parents stuck by me. is the reason i got through that, and i can not express how much regret i have for putting my parents through the stuff i did.

  • Comment number 8.

    hia. im actualy watchin cherrys parenting dilemas as i write this. i believe that evry1 brings their children up differntly. and we all have our views an opinions on what way is best. parenthood is so enjoyable, wonderful, magical and worth it. but yet so hard, testing and emotional. cherry, when coco finaly gave in and picked up the spoon of food, and ate some. i felt so proud for u and her. my eyes were a bit teary. well done on u for not giving up. x

  • Comment number 9.

    "forestzoe" I don't think the problem was the spag bol. or the first food Cherry gave Coco. She didn't try the food, therefore it wasn't the taste that put her off. As Cherry stated Coco doesn't like to sit in her highchair, and that's why she wouldn't eat. I think better advice would be to give her some finger foods in her highchair - not crisps or biscuits maybe some toast. My son is 10 months old and he eats that so there is no reason why Coco cant.
    Also, i'm pretty sure that unlike adults, babies dont look at foods and think "yuk that looks horrible i wont eat it" so the look of that food has really nothing to do with it.
    And I think that as Cherry stated that it is a "daily battle"means your idea of leaving it and trying it again another day just wont work as she still won't want to sit in her highchair. Just my thoughts.


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